Minnesota Sports Stars Leverage Fan Experiences to Raise Philanthropic Dollars
A calendar chock-full of charitable galas and golf tournaments was quickly wiped clean in 2020 for Minnesota sports stars Kyle Rudolph and Jason Zucker.
That year, the two athletes and their philanthropic partners Jon Walburg and Joel Kunza had a goal to raise $500,000 for kids in need through the nonprofit Athletes for MN Kids. But the pandemic cut that goal short and forced the four men to take a closer look at their approach to charitable fundraising.
Tapping into Rudolph and Zucker’s relationships with athletes and celebrities, Alltroo was born, a sweepstakes company that offers prizes in the form of experiences like an all-expenses-paid trip to a Boston Bruins game and a dinner date with Charlie Coyle or front row seats to the Garth Brooks Notre Dame concert, a signed guitar, and a campus tour by Rudolph himself.
“Whether you’re a player with a foundation or a celebrity entertainer and you have a cause that you’re passionate about, we (Alltroo) can be a platform that allows you to then use your platform and your following to raise a bunch of money with little to no overhead,” said Rudolph, a former Minnesota Viking.
While sweepstakes are far from new, Rudolph and Zucker’s star-studded network brings with it millions of fan followers. Alltroo is a company where star power meets the business of philanthropy. With social media, one Instagram post by Garth Brooks can net $10,000 in one day, a number Brooks then matches. Twin Cities entrepreneurs Walburg and Kunza bring the business savvy to create a platform that makes this process easy.
But how did this unlikely quartet come to co-found this new startup?
A chance meeting
Walburg was a “random guy” Rudolph met on a flight.
The former Vikings’ tight end was on a John Wayne Airport flight back home to Minnesota after a trip to Newport Beach to celebrate his buddy Jason Zucker’s one-year wedding anniversary. He didn’t know Walburg had sat next to him on the flight back from Zucker’s wedding a year prior as well.
“Everyone was bugging him so I didn’t say a word,” Walburg said with a smirk of their first flight together.
But, since fate had put them in the same adjacent seats two years in a row, Walburg found the courage to strike up a conversation with Rudolph the second time around. He knew his pal Joel Kunza had been in the same charitable golf tournament as Rudolph, so they chatted about that. As the plane was landing, Walburg told Rudolph he and Kunza had room for a fourth at the Hazeltine National Golf Club the coming weekend.
To Walburg’s surprise, Rudolph agreed to join them.
“So we’re driving to Hazeltine and we’re like ‘There’s no way this guy is going to show up.’ We walk in and there’s Kyle having breakfast,” Walburg said.
By the fourth hole, the three men were halfway through planning a charity golf tournament.
This meeting led to the launch of Athletes For MN Kids, a pre-pandemic venture that, in its first event in 2019, raised more than $100,000 for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Soon Jason Zucker, a former Minnesota Wild player, hopped on board too.
As professional athletes, Zucker says he and Rudolph have a platform through their followers.
“It’s a platform we want to use for good,” Zucker said.
Zucker also credits his wife, Carly, for being a partner who pushes to give back in more than one creative way, noting that they first teamed up with Rudolph, Walburg, And Kunza through their #Give16 campaign, which has raised more than $1.2 million for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
The creation of Alltroo
In their work through Athletes For MN Kids, the four men tried to create a niche in the world of charity golf tournaments by being “highly exclusive,” said Kunza, Alltroo’s co-founder.
While many tournaments charge around $500 for a foursome, they were charging $10,000. With groups entering at $10,000 a pop, they could raise $100,000 in one event after accounting for overhead costs.
When these types of exclusive events were no longer possible during Covid, they had to pivot.
“We looked at what we could do to just change things up and make things more accessible because, at $10,000 a foursome, you can imagine not everyone’s able to participate even they wanted to help the charity,” Kunza said. “It’s very exclusive with this price point.”
That’s how they landed on the sweepstakes model.
Instead of trying to get 30 people to pay $10,000 a pop, they could reach 30,000 people entering $10 at a time. This model also eliminated overhead costs associated with events like a golf tournament or gala.
The typical sweepstakes will run for 90 days and is open to all residents of the U.S. and Canada, excluding Quebec. There is only one winner. Entering with a $10 donation can get someone up to 80 sweepstakes entries and entries are 100 percent tax-deductible.
The winner and a guest receive an all-expenses-paid package that includes travel, accommodations, and tickets to an event. The experience also involves a meeting with the sponsoring athlete or celebrity.
How they’ve done so far
With Rudolph and Zucker’s celebrity network, they are able to reach big names including, most recently, Garth Brooks, a man Rudolph says he has always looked up to.
A partnership with the country music legend brings with it Brooks’ 1.7-million-fan following on Instagram, plus another 5 million on Facebook, and half a million on Twitter. That’s essentially free advertising.
The power of this network could be seen Tuesday, when Garth Brooks posted a video on his Instagram page, directing his followers to the Alltroo site. In one day, just under $10,000 was raised for eligible youth charities in the South Bend, Indiana area. Altroo’s previous single-day record was $5,457.
The Garth sweepstakes has been live for just one week, and has raised $18,223 with 653 total participants. Alltroo’s goal for Garth is to raise $40,000 by April 28 when the sweepstakes ends.
The sweepstakes model allows people to give what they can afford while their donation is often matched by their favorite celebrity, Rudolph said. “We believe that Alltroo has the opportunity to really try to take all our charitable giving and all the work we’ve done over the past three years and grow exponentially and make a much bigger impact on more than one organization.”
Alltroo raised $75,000 in its first seven months after launching in mid-2022. Since February, it has raised another $75,000. With this momentum, the founders say they hope to raise $1 million within the year.
Alltroo’s marketing coordinator is the company’s only full-time employee on payroll. Over the summer, they hope to hire an “experience coordinator” to help plan the winner experiences and ensure they run smoothly from start to finish for the winners and the celebrities. They also hope to bring on a project manager to work in operations and a web developer.